Texting is an important method of communication in our society, but it can also be damaging. No, I’m not talking about that expletive-laden rant you accidentally sent to your mom. By hunching your shoulders and bending your neck to check messages and type, you can be hurting your neck and spine. Self reveals in an article from 2011 that this condition has been named “text neck” by chiropractor Dean L. Fishman, who defines it as “an overuse syndrome or a repetitive stress injury, where you have your head hung forward and down looking at your mobile device for extended periods of time.” According to Dr. Fishman, text neck “can cause headaches, neck pain, shoulder and arm pain, breathing compromise, and much more.”
The Washington Post cites a 2014 study conducted by Dr. Kenneth K. Hansraj, chief of spinal surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, which shows this position exerts increased amounts of pressure on the spine, up to 60 pounds when your head is tilted at a 60 degree angle — the publication compares the weight to “carrying an 8-year-old around your neck several hours per day.” This leads to poor posture, which could spell big trouble for your body. “Loss of the natural curve of the cervical spine leads to incrementally increased stresses about the cervical spine. These stresses may lead to early wear, tear, degeneration, and possibly surgeries,” says Dr. Hansraj in the study. He also highlights research from the Harvard Editorial Board stating that people spend approximately 700 to 1,400 hours a year in this uncomfortable and potentially dangerous position, with Dr. Hansraj claiming that high school students could be spending up to 5,000 hours a year in this manner.
A CNN affiliate station in Colorado recently explored this phenomenon of young people developing text neck, with Dr. Chad Cotter of HealthSource Chiropractic explaining that teens sometimes don’t fully understand the symptoms. “It’s setting those kids up to have major problems as adults,” warns Cotter. “Kids don’t know how to explain it to their parents. They don’t know how to express it correctly, and so parents discount what their kids are saying until it becomes a big problem.”
There are ways to help prevent and alleviate symptoms associated with text neck. Seeking advice from a medical professional will help you find a program tailored to your needs. You can also make changes in your everyday life to avoid text neck. Dr. Chris Cornett, an orthopedic surgeon and spine specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, recommends holding your device at eye level when possible, taking breaks from using your mobile gadgets and developing a “strong, flexible back and neck” with exercise.
Self got the lowdown from Dr. Fishman on ways to deal with text neck. He has designed a regimen of four specific exercises that will help improve posture and keep neck pain at bay, and his Android app called Text Neck Indicator will help you monitor your posture while on your phone. The app, available in a paid version and a “lite” free version, senses the position of your phone and alerts you when you are holding it in a way that could cause you to improperly bend your neck. In addition to the sensor, the paid version charts your activity and offers exercises for alleviating text neck, though the exercise in the paid preview is the same as the first exercise in the Self article. I downloaded the lite version, and, while the signals are an effective reminder to pick my head up and hold my phone properly, the app is not perfect. For example, not many people leave their phone upright while charging, but the app counts that tilt as poor posture.
Self also recommends practicing exercises that promote good posture, such as Bar Method, yoga and Pilates. Pilates is a great core strengthener that helps to create proper posture. At a recent workshop for Yoga Journal, yoga teacher Amy Ippoliti shared some poses and tips for using your devices to fight text neck, referred to in the article as “tech neck.” According to Yoga Journal, these poses, which include a gradual cobra and downward facing dog, will help lengthen the neck and realign the shoulders and spine.
Of course, if you are experiencing major discomfort, aren’t adept at these exercises or have any concerns, see a medical professional for proper guidance.